The Grierson Awards 2021: Winners


  • Winners

    Envy Best Single Documentary - Domestic

    David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

    • Jonnie Hughes, Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey & Colin Butfield
    • Silverback Films & WWF Production — Netflix

    This documentary tells the story of life on our planet by the man who has seen more of the natural world than most. In 90+ years, David Attenborough has visited every continent on the globe, exploring our planet and documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder.

    The judges said:”Covering the most important story of our times, it weaves together many layers to give a powerful perspective that only Sir David could impart, after decades of standout filmmaking. This was visually arresting, attention-grabbing documentary filmmaking. It is a film that people need to watch.” "

    Molinare Best Single Documentary - International

    Collective: Unravelling a Scandal

    • Alexander Nanau, Bianca Oana, Bernard Michaux, Hanka Kastelicova & Antoaneta Opriș
    • Alexander Nanau Production – BBC Four

    In 2015, a fire at Bucharest’s Colectiv club leaves 27 dead and 180 injured. Soon, more burn victims begin dying in hospitals from wounds that were not life-threatening. Then a doctor blows the whistle to a team of investigative journalists. One revelation leads to another as the journalists start to uncover vast health care fraud. When a new health minister is appointed, he offers unprecedented access to his efforts to reform the corrupt system but also to the obstacles he faces. Following journalists, whistle-blowers, burn victims, and government officials, Collective is an uncompromising look at the impact of investigative journalism at its best.

    The judges said: "The judges were completely gripped by this extraordinary film about systematic corruption at the heart of the Romanian healthcare system and admired the way the filmmakers reveal the unfolding political scandal from the inside in a way that was understated but always intensely dramatic. This was observational documentary at its best."

    Televisual Best Current Affairs Documentary

    Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge

    • David France, Alice Henty, Joy A. Tomchin, Askold Kurov, Tyler H. Walk & Igor Myakotin
    • Public Square Films – BBC Four

    Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge bears witness to the work of Russian activists rescuing victims of a governmental anti-LGBTQ purge, hiding them in safe houses, smuggling them into other countries and attempting to gain the assistance of foreign governments. This is not historical fiction, but a tragically contemporary account of an ongoing humanitarian crisis — a genocide in the making.

    The judges said: "This documentary reminded the jury of the power of observational filmmaking. They described it as mind-blowing, with phenomenal access to brave central characters that made for deeply disturbing revelations and amazing insight into the court case at the heart of the narrative. The use of digital deepfake was innovative and exemplary; keeping the audience immersed in the story from start to finish."


    Undercover in the Schools that Chain Boys

    • Fath Al-Rahman Al-Hamdani, Jessica Kelly, Mamdouh Akbiek, Bettina Waked, Simon Cox & Mustafa Khalili
    • BBC News Arabic Documentaries – BBC Arabic

    A BBC News Arabic investigation has uncovered systemic child abuse inside Islamic schools in Sudan, with boys as young as five years old routinely chained, shackled and beaten by the ‘sheikhs’, or religious men in charge of the schools. The investigation found evidence of rape and sexual abuse. For 18 months, reporter Fateh Al-Rahman Al-Hamdani, filmed inside 23 schools across Sudan. The film follows the boys’ recoveries and their families’ fight for justice.

    The judges said: "This extraordinary piece of revealing filmmaking truly shocked the judges. The investigation was expertly held together by the reporter, made even more poignant by the fact he had a personal stake in the film. A prime example of powerful undercover documentary making with great access and determination to hold those responsible to account."

    Storm Best Arts Documentary

    The Painter and the Thief

    • Benjamin Ree & Ingvil Giske
    • Medieoperatørene, VGTV, Tremolo Productions & Norwegian Film Institute
    • Sky Arts

    Desperate for answers about the theft of her two paintings, a Czech artist seeks out and befriends the career criminal who stole them. After inviting her thief to sit for a portrait, the two form an improbable relationship and an inextricable bond that will forever link these lonely souls.

    The judges said: "The judges described this as an impressive piece of work. They fell in love with the protagonists, becoming fully invested in their respective journeys. They loved the craft of the film and how it was artfully constructed. With amazing access, you got an inside track watching the characters grow and find themselves. An original and brilliant documentary."

    Sky Documentaries Best Music Documentary

    Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell

    • Production team
    • A Netflix Original Documentary — Netflix

    Featuring rare footage and in-depth interviews, this documentary celebrates the life of The Notorious B.I.G. on his journey from hustler to rap king.

    The judges said: "The sociological precision and crisp, articulate detail of the contributors made this documentary revelatory with regards to the motivations of a well-known subject. The film presented the inevitability of themes of drugs and violence as a Shakespearian tragedy, even without focusing on Biggie’s death, and used never-before seen archive and music to tell a well-rounded story.”

    Best Sports Documentary

    Athlete A

    • Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk, Serin Marshall, Jennifer Sey, Julie Parker Benello & Don Bernier
    • A Netflix Original Documentary in association with Impact Partners, Artemis Rising Foundation, Meadow Fund, Dobkin Family Foundation, Chicago Media Project, Grant Me the Wisdom Productions & An Actual Films Production – Netflix

    This documentary focuses on the gymnasts who survived USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse and the reporters who exposed USAG’s toxic culture.

    The judges said: "This was a meticulous and devastating film exposing layer upon layer of cruelty and abuse. The bravery and self-possession of the women who were preyed upon was at times heart-breaking. This was a great piece of journalism that was never over-blown, detailing not just the behaviour of the sexual predator Dr Nassar, but also the system of cruelty imported from Romania and the willingness of USA Gymnastics to turn a blind eye in the service of power and money."

    Channel 5 Best History Documentary

    Once Upon a Time in Iraq – Episode 2

    • James Bluemel, Jo Abel, Miriam Walsh, Will Grayburn, Will Anderson & Andrew Palmer
    • KEO Films – BBC Two

    In this series, the story of the Iraq war is told by civilians, journalists, and soldiers – ordinary people from both sides of the conflict, who lived through the 17 years of chaos that followed. Told with hope, humanity and humour, and illustrated with extraordinary archive, it takes us closer to the realities of the invasion than ever before. Through their eyes we see how events in Iraq have changed the world forever.

    The judges said: "This was a profound and powerful piece of work which impressed the judges with its focussed journalism and great editing. The filmmakers were praised for not going for the obvious choices in their contributors but presenting us with credible and conflicted characters. Genre-defining, totally gripping and the whole package."

    The Open University Best Science Documentary

    Locked In: Breaking the Silence

    • Xavier Alford, Colette Hodges, Sacha Mirzoeff, Poppy Goodheart, Iris Maor & Jane Zurakowski
    • Marble Films – BBC Four

    Locked In: Breaking the Silence is an intimate, personal and surprisingly life-affirming story with a rare illness at its heart. Director Xavier Alford is finally confronting an illness he has been hiding from family, close friends and even himself. Locked In offers a fresh and unflinchingly honest perspective on the benefits of confronting the very things that scare us most, as Xavier finds that talking with fellow patients and his family makes them all stronger.

    The judges said: "The marriage of poetry and science to create an exposing, challenging and brave film really moved the judges. A touch of innocence and tenderness was added through conversations with the filmmakers’ children, which explored the science behind his illness. The sound design and edit were also commended as incredibly powerful, making the film appear almost as an art installation at times, to truly elegant effect."


    The Surgeon's Cut – Episode 1

    • Production team
    • BBC Studios — Netflix

    They’re philosophers, storytellers and pioneers in their fields. Four surgeons reflect on their lives and professions in this inspiring docuseries. In episode one, an innovative, compassionate fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Kypros Nicolaides guides his patients through emotionally fraught pregnancy complications.

    The judges said: "Jeopardy was present for all at the outset of watching this gripping documentary. The judges described the interviews set ups as gorgeous, use of archive extremely cool and access as impressive; with an engaging central character to keep the viewer invested throughout. The narrative humanised an otherwise clinical and removed process at the centre of the story, injecting it with a big hit of emotion."

    Discovery Best Natural History or Environmental Documentary

    My Octopus Teacher

    • Pippa Ehrlich, Ellen Windemuth, Swati Thiyagarajan, Craig Foster, James Reed & Sam Barton-Humphries
    • A Netflix Original Documentary in association with Off the Fence & The Sea Change Project – Netflix

    A filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world.

    The judges said: "A moving and captivating narrative that the judges said captured incredible, not seen before natural history. Structurally impeccable, it was astonishing and beautiful filmmaking, which at its heart told a wonderful story that struck an emotional chord."

    YouTube Originals Best Entertaining Documentary

    The Mole: Infiltrating North Korea

    • Mads Brügger, Bjarte Mørner Tveit & Peter Engel
    • Piraya Film I AS – BBC Four

    A real-life undercover thriller about two ordinary men who embark on an outrageously dangerous ten-year mission to penetrate the world’s most secretive and brutal dictatorship: North Korea.

    The judges said: "The judges were gripped by this fascinating story. They described it a breath-taking, jaw-dropping, surreal, crazy, fearless, bombastic, beautiful and honest."

    Netflix Best Documentary Series

    Once Upon a Time in Iraq

    • James Bluemel, Jo Abel, Miriam Walsh, Simon Sykes, Will Anderson & Andrew Palmer
    • KEO Films — BBC Two

    In this series, the story of the Iraq war is told by civilians, journalists, and soldiers - ordinary people from both sides of the conflict, who lived through the 17 years of chaos that followed. Told with hope, humanity and humour, and illustrated with extraordinary archive, it takes us closer to the realities of the invasion than ever before. Through their eyes we see how events in Iraq have changed the world forever.

    The judges said: "The judges were unanimous in choosing this devastatingly powerful series as the category winner. They praised it as a masterclass in casting with remarkable characters drawn from all sides of the conflict whose stories intersect in surprising and compelling ways. They described it as immersive with a great story arc to each episode which provided insights to both geo-political and deeply personal stories."

    Channel 4 Best Constructed Documentary Series

    The School That Tried to End Racism

    • Production team
    • Proper Content — Channel 4

    A new series following a pioneering British school as it tries to help its students uncover and eradicate hidden racial biases.

    The judges said: "This highly original documentary format felt fresh and raw to the jury. The film was high stakes and highly educative, taking the viewer on an unexpected journey along with the contributors. It never felt overly emotional but instead charted the difficulties faced by each of the school children in a measured way. Reflecting current societal issues of race and identity, but framing it within the context of a future generation, felt worthy and was poignant and thought-provoking. There was a Catherine wheel of impact as the ripple effect of the experiment spread beyond the children to their families and teachers and ultimately to viewers themselves."

    The Rumi Foundation Best Documentary Short

    A Love Song for Latasha

    • Sophia Nahli Allison, Fam Udeorji & Janice Duncan
    • A Netflix Original Documentary – Netflix

    The killing of Latasha Harlins became a flashpoint for the 1992 LA uprising. This documentary evocatively explores the 15-year-old’s life and dreams.

    The judges said: "This documentary expertly combined animation, music, interviews, and a whole array of visual treats to document Latasha’s tragically short life and share her story, hopes and unrealised dreams, by the people who loved her the most. The change in documentary style and grade for the three narrative segments was charming and effective, adding style and layers to this touching eulogy of a film in a subtle and unexpected way"

    All3Media Best Student Documentary


    • Jessica Brady, Danielle Goff, Lesley Posso, Henry Sims, Alastair Mcnamara & Fabiana Tesauro
    • National Film and Television School

    A filmmaker delves into the world of online sex workers by becoming one herself. Realising it's not as straightforward as she first thought, she begins to push her boundaries; but will it ever be enough?

    The judges said: "Watching the director hurl herself into the world of online sex work made for a compelling story from the get-go. The judges were impressed by the bravery and vulnerability of the filmmaker as the subject. They commended the intelligently crafted narrative, clever use of graphics and skilful editing supporting this well-rounded personal exploration project."

    Best Documentary Presenter

    YINKA BOKINNI for Damilola: The Boy Next Door

    • Acme Films — Channel 4

    Yinka Bokinni grew up on the North Peckham Estate in south London – a place that became notorious when her friend, ten-year-old Damilola Taylor was stabbed and killed. But Yinka remembers an idyllic childhood, surrounded by loving family and friends in a tight-knit community. Now, at the age of 30, Yinka is ready to confront the devastating impact her friend’s death had on her community and the lives of almost everyone she knew.

    The judges said: "Two decades after the murder of Damilola Taylor, his friend Yinka Bokinni explored the impact of his death on herself and the Peckham community where they lived. Yinka was a compelling presence, offering a nuanced exploration of loss and trauma. This was a deeply personal and original film about what happens when you bury grief."


    DR CHRIS AND DR XAND VAN TULLEKEN for Surviving the Virus: My Brother & Me

    • Little Gem — BBC One

    The film follows doctors and twin brothers Chris and Xand van Tulleken through the COVID-19 pandemic at work and at home. It has far more personal consequences than either of them could have imagined. Dr Chris is an Infectious Diseases doctor and wants to understand what the virus is doing to our bodies and why it’s so difficult to treat. Dr Xand wants to examine the impact COVID-19 is having outside our hospitals.

    The judges said: "This documentary was filmed when we didn’t know much about the effects of COVID 19, and it was a completely gripping watch with genuine moments of not knowing how things were going to unfold - both for the country, and for Chris and Xand. They are to be commended for allowing themselves to be filmed at their most vulnerable, for managing to offer expert medical insight, whilst also revealing their personal struggles. We felt privileged to witness their journey."

    BBC Grierson Trustees’ Award

    Tabitha Jackson

    • Line producer, Head of Production

    Tabitha Jackson is the Director of the Sundance Film Festival and former Arts Commissioner at Channel 4. A vocal supporter of the arts and documentary filmmaking, Tabitha Jackson was named as the Director of the highly influential Sundance Film Festival at the start of 2020. She is the first woman, person of colour and person born outside the US to become the festival’s Director. From 2013 – 2020, Jackson served as Sundance’s Director of the Documentary Film Programme during which time she championed the cultural power of cinematic non-fiction and tried to support a more expansive set of makers and forms.

    Previously as Commissioning Editor, Arts at Channel 4, she supported independent and alternative voices and innovative storytelling. She has over 25 years’ experience in arts and documentary filmmaking and served as executive producer on a number of projects for Film4 including Bart Layton’s The Imposter, Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film, Clio Barnard’s The Arbor, Sophie Fiennes’ The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days On Earth.

    Lorraine Heggessey, Chair of The Griersson Trust said: "To be the first woman, first person of colour, first person born outside the US and the first person from the documentary community to be named director of the internationally-renowned Sundance Festival is an extraordinary achievement. Tabitha Jackson is visionary and inspirational in her support of innovative documentary filmmaking. Her position at the helm of Sundance bodes very well for the future of the global documentary industry.”

    The Talent Manager Grierson Hero of the Year Award

    Serena Kennedy

    • Line producer, Head of Production

    Serena Kennedy was Head of Production/Line Producer on Adam Wishart’s 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room the first BBC/Apple TV+ co production; Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers which premiered at Sundance this year; and Line Producer on Channel 4’s fast turnaround series in response to the killing of George Floyd, Take Your Knee Off My Neck, which is nominated for The Rumi Foundation Best Documentary Short at this year’s awards.

    Serena’s credits span highly acclaimed and award-winning cinema and TV feature documentaries, current affairs, documentaries, observational documentaries, docu-drama, daytime, features, fact-ent and children’s documentaries. She has worked with a number of companies including Wish/Art Films, Milk and Honey, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, World Media Rights, Love Productions, Mediadante and Fuuse Films. She worked extensively with Drummer TV where she oversaw all their content and was previously Head of Production at RDF Television West and Maverick Television.

    Lorraine Heggessey, Chair of The Griersson Trust said: "There are many unsung heroes in our business: people who work tirelessly and often save the day but are rarely garnered with awards. Serena’s achievements this year are all the more remarkable given the unprecedented challenges of filming during Covid. Her work in navigating the complex logistics of Adam Wishart’s film, 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room was nothing short of miraculous.

    “I’m further delighted that through this award The Grierson Trust is able to highlight the pivotal role that production managers play in film and television. Our industry is waking up to the fact that all too often they are under-valued and unappreciated. Serena is a fantastic example of the wide range of skills and talent that a good production manager deploys at every stage of a production. I hope that through celebrating Serena and her work, we can continue to build on our commitment to bring new talent to this field of work as there is a desperate shortage of people working in production management.”


    Awards Programme

    Download the Grierson 2021: the British Documentary Awards programme.



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